By Mindy Ragan Wood, Staff Writer – Alcohol and drug abuse is a problem in Yukon, first responders and law enforcement reports reveal. The top culprits remain prescription pain pills and heroin, both opioids.
Yukon Deputy Fire Chief Kyle Trumbly said addiction is a national epidemic and one they often see in Yukon. They routinely respond to medical calls, many of them for overdose cases.
“We carry a drug called Narcan which is a drug reversal medication. Narcotic use is becoming such an epidemic, now it’s not just paramedics and paramedic firefighters who are able to administer this, but they’re now giving these to police departments and sheriff’s offices. That’s how much of an epidemic narcotic use is becoming,” he said.
“I’ve seen a definite increase in drug and alcohol related calls.” Yukon Battalion Chief Kent Long said he’s seen drug use trends over the course of his career at the fire department.
“The big drug around here was meth for a long time, but now it’s transitioned to heroin because of the cost and availability. When the feds and the cops crack down on one thing, they kind of chase it out and then something else pops up,” he said.
Yukon paramedic and firefighter Sergeant Dennis Noel said heroin, synthetic heroin, and pain medications have been the new drugs of choice, following the popularity of antidepressants. He is often on the scene to revive those who have overdosed. The drugs he most often sees are heroin and prescription pain medicine.
“Since they came up with synthetic heroin (hydromorphone) opioids and prescription medication are a trend,” he said.The Yukon Fire Department and Yukon Police Department provided the number of complaints or calls when substance abuse is involved in the response. The Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics (OBN) also publishes data regarding overdoses and fatalities.
According to the Yukon Police Department reports, in 2015, the number of substance abuse complaints was 109, but the numbers shot up to 201 in 2016. So far in 2017, they have responded to 136 drug related incidents. The Yukon Fire Department responds when there is an overdose or medical event. They responded to 13 calls in 2015, 16 in 2016, and four this year.From 2013 to 2015, OBN reported 92 overdoses and an additional 45 fatal overdoses in Canadian County. From 2012 to 2016, there were 206 opioid treatments provided by the Oklahoma Department of Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services for Canadian County.
First responders may only see a fraction of the substance abuse problem. Police and firefighters respond when the drug abuse becomes a public event, when someone is intoxicated in public or has overdosed.While the nation chokes on the epidemic of opioid abuse, first responders are forced to cope with the ongoing crisis as they hit the streets.The response begins with a call.
“A family member or friend usually calls because they’re unresponsive. We’re asking them questions, like, ‘when was the last time you saw them responsive?’ Our list of questions triggers a possible drug (determination), but without blood work you don’t know for sure,” Noel said.
The fire department and the police department intersect with each other as they evaluate the medical side and the public safety threat that an overdose victim presents. The YFD calls for a police officer for every drug related call. Trumbly said they never know how safe or dangerous the incident will be for firefighters.“When someone is in that state of mind, depending on what they’re taking they can have super human strength or think you’re an intruder in the home. With concealed to carry, they could be armed, and all of that raises a huge concern. So, we’ll ask for an officer to arrive on the scene and make sure they’ve checked everything out.”
The police response comes from highly trained officers who have completed a program called Drug Recognition Expert (DRE). Captain John Brown is a DRE trained officer who knows the symptoms for illicit drugs.
“Understanding how a specific drug category affects a subject can have substantial success on asking the correct questions to determine a subject’s state of mind, exposure to the drug, and how their potential demeanor may play out due to their influence of a specific drug,” Brown said.
The education he has received can save a life.“As a DRE, I am able to assess a subject’s condition in order to determine if they are under the influence of a legal or illicit drug and provide necessary information to responding medical personnel so they can better prepare for their patient.”
Noel said he appreciates the police response.
“The cops are really good at this because they have the recognition training class. Whenever they approach someone who they suspect is on a certain drug, just by the person’s body language and how the person is acting and talking, it narrows down their choice of drug.”
Noel’s training as a paramedic firefighter prepares him to save someone’s life, and though he has not had the DRE training he can spot many of the medical symptoms.
“When someone is on PCP they are abnormally strong,” he said. “It magnifies their personality. So, if they’re a jerk, they’re going to be an even bigger jerk. If they’re nice, they’re going to be overly nice. Someone on heroin doesn’t really care and they usually go to sleep.”
One reason the addiction to opioids is common could be the accessibility. Officer Brown said heroin is king.
“Over the last five years there has been an increase in the availability of heroin in the metro. This is also due to the increase in demand for heroin. Narcotic Analgesic (opioids) addiction too often starts with opiate prescription medication (prescription pain medicine) that led to the abuse.”
Noel said kids have easy access to begin a cycle of abuse because pain medication is easy to find.
“They’re getting their parents medication or grandparents medication from the medicine cabinet,” he said. “It’s that easy to get it. It’s easy for any teenager to get it.”
Red Rock Behavioral Health tracks drug abuse data in Canadian and Grady counties as a region. According to their 2016 findings, 6.9 percent of 8th graders reported misusing prescription drugs and 56.1 percent of 12th graders reported obtaining drugs from friends to get them high.From the dingy back alley to the nicest house in town, addiction is no respecter of zip codes, social status, or age.
“It affects all classes of life. Drugs do not discriminate against social economic statuses,” Brown said.
“It’s a public health concern which usually begins with the abuse of prescribed medication that can lead to illicit drug use.”
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